Honor Your Elders
Partially due to it being Memorial Day this episode isn’t going to be as theologically based as most episodes are and instead is going to be more of a story about an older friend that has long since passed. However, there is a Biblical mandate to respect and take care of our elders, but again, this is not going to be a theological discussion, just a story.
When I was in home group Bible study Sunday evening we got to talking about those we lost to wars and how few were still alive who fought in the great war, and the debt we owe to those who sacrificed to preserve or freedom. We were talking about a member of the church who was a WWII veteran and had passed recently, and I talked about him a little a few episodes back. While we were discussing the topic of veterans, and older people in general, I got to thinking about an elderly man I knew when I was younger who had a big impact on my life and the man I became, and that is the topic of today’s episode.
I think it is sad how many people are forgotten in their old age and no one remembers all of the good they did and everyone only focuses on how much of a burden they have become. Regardless of how much good a person does in his or her life or how much they help other people, everyone gets to the point in their life where they require the assistance of others, and I think we owe it to those who took care of us to return the favor and take care of them when they need it, and I think those who took care of others should have the grace and dignity to accept help from others when they need it and not consider themselves a burden.
I don’t particularly like mowing, but right now my mother needs a surgery on her shoulder so I have been mowing the grass at my house and then coming over to her house and mowing her grass. Even after my mother recovers from her surgery I will still mow her grass because she is not home a lot and I know she would appreciate it if I didn’t let it get knee high while she is gone. Besides, my mother has done so much for me over the years that the least I can do is mow her grass.
I am not sure why, but I have always had a heart for older people and have always tried to help them when I can. As a teenager I worked at a hotel and I would help out the older ladies I worked with and I would often go to lunch with them. When I drove a tour bus I hauled a lot of senior citizens, in part because a few other drivers did not have the patience for them. I never minded having senior passengers and most of the time I had a great time and thought they were a hoot and always liked to hear their stories.
It was not planned that way, but there are only two of us under 40 in the small group Bible study I lead at church, and a lot of those in the group are considerably older than that, and I don’t mind at all. I feel blessed to have these older people in my group and to learn from their wisdom and life experiences, and I feel even more blessed that they trust me and look up to me with respect as their leader and I hope and pray that I do justice to my calling. When I was asked to lead the home group Bible study it was supposed to be for older singles and it was assumed there would be a lot of diversity in age, but it is basically two people in their thirties, one in their fifties, and the rest of the people are above that.
I have always tried to show respect for people, especially those older than me, and that was the way I was raised. My mother taught me to have respect for people and to address those in authority with respect and to call older people “sir” or “Ma’am.” I don’t care if it is out of fashion or not considered to be politically correct, I will continue to show respect to others, open doors for people, and give up my seat to the disabled, to those older than I am, and to ladies, especially those who are pregnant or have small children.
A lot of the things that were a given when I was growing up, such as the societal rules for respecting you elders and those in authority, no longer seam to apply in society today, and that is sad.
When I was a teenager we lived next door to an elderly gentleman who was a World War II veteran and I became good friends with him despite the significant difference in our ages. Norwood was his name, but he liked everyone to call him Woody, and that is how I shall always refer to him, well, that and friend.
Whenever anyone would ask Woody where he was from he would, without fail, say, “By God West Virginia,” never just West Virginia. Woody would always be a West Virginian, but that is not where I met him. I met Woody near the town of Ashfork, Arizona, or as Wooody called it, “Trashfork.”
Ashfork is a small town in Northern Arizona, approximately an hour and a half from the South rim of the Grand Canyon. Of course we didn’t live in Ashfork, we lived out in the sticks ten or fifteen miles outside of town where no one had electricity or running water and everyone had to have solar panels or generators for power and had to haul water in from town. The water was so deep in the ground that most people could not afford to pay to have a well drilled that deep, and the area was so far away from the power grid that no one could afford to pay to have power ran out to the area, even if everyone shared the cost. The power company charged over five hundred dollars per power pole they place. Five hundred per pole is not that much when you need two or three poles, but when you are more than ten miles from the closest power line it runs into some serious money. People in the area did not have money and most of them lived in trailer houses and drove cars well past their life expectancy.
Whenever my family went into town to get water I would always make sure I helped Woody get water for his place as well, and sometimes I drove into town just to get water for his place. A few of the neighbors were originally super nice to Woody because they thought he was rich and only lived out there by himself because he was eccentric, but as soon as they found out he was living on a fixed income they were no longer interested.
During his many years on earth, Woody had been married six times and three of those marriages ended in divorce, and three left him as a widower. Woody always joked and said that three of his wives divorced him to get away from him and the other three died to get away from him. Actually, Woody wasn’t always joking when he said that, sometimes he actually believed it. I honestly have no idea if it were actually true and had no sure way of finding out, but I always told Woody that the three wives who died loved him and didn’t want to leave him. I don’t know if Woody believed me, but it did make him feel better, at least for a few minutes.
Woody was extremely set in his ways and was, without a doubt, an alcoholic but he was a good man and I learned a lot from him. Woody was not overly fond of my father, and in fact he could not stand him. Woody always said he was glad that I did not turn out like my father, and he would often ask my mother why she stuck with a man who treated her and her children so poorly. The answer to that question is a subject for another time.
Some of my fondest memories with Woody were when I was acting as his designated driver, which is something I did often. The first time I was Woody’s designated driver was before I had my driver’s license, but I thought the situation warranted it. I had ridden into town with Woody to run an errand and while in town he stopped by the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and got plastered, and I decided both of us would be much safer if I drove. I knew there was a slight risk of getting pulled over and getting a ticket for driving without a license, but that was much better than risking both of our lives by allowing Woody to drive. Besides, if we survived the ride with Woody driving and had gotten pulled over he would have gone to jail. Both of us agreed that it was a much better to have me drive.
After I got my drivers license a week or two later it was almost a daily occurrence for me to drive Woody to town so he could spend some time at the VFW and get a few drinks, and though neither of us were very good, we often played pool. I wasn’t really supposed to be in the VFW due to my age, but they made an exception since I was Woody’s driver and never tried to get alcohol and never caused even the slightest trouble.
I had a job but I worked early mornings so I was always off work by the time Woody wanted to go into town. The ladies who worked at the VFW always gave me free soda, and occasionally free food, and when they didn’t give me food Woody bought it for me. Sometimes I would get bored and fall asleep and when it was time to close one of the ladies would wake me up and say, “It is time to take your grandfather home.”
I would walk over and gently take Woody’s arm and say, “Come on grandpa, let me take you home.” Neither of us ever told the ladies at the VFW that we were not actually related as doing so would have served no purpose and neither of us minded having people think we were related. Honestly, I always thought of Woody as my grandfather and he thought of me as his grandson and even always referred to my mother his daughter.
I didn’t just take Woody home, I also made sure he made it to bed and that his dog and cat were fed and had water. I can’t remember if I ever told Woody that I loved him, but even if I didn’t I am sure that my actions toward him told him as much.
I am not justifying Woody’s alcoholism, but I think the main reason he was always drinking is because he was so sad all the time, partially because he lived so far away from his daughters and grandchildren that he almost never saw them and he only had one real friend, another WWII veteran who he had served with during the war. Woody’s war buddy lived in the central part of the state, several hours away, so he didn’t see him often either. Woody was never violent or rude when he drank, just sad, and he would talk endlessly about the war and his wives who had either left him or died.
I wish I had recorded or written down some of Woody’s stories so they could be preserved, but as a teen I enjoyed listening to the stories but never thought about preserving them. I was a lot more mature than most teens my age, but I still was not too forward thinking.
One of the girls I worked with could not understand why I willingly spent so much time with someone so much older than I was and said she would rather go deaf than hear the stories old people tell. This girl did not think anything old had any value, including people, and thought everything old should be gotten rid of and replaced with something new. What a horrible way to think!
I have always loved and respected old people and have learned a lot from them. I think that while it is important to have friends your own age it is also important to have friends who are on the other side of the spectrum of life. We younger people can learn a lot from the older people and they can learn a lot from us, and we can edify each other. I also think old material things are often immensely valuable as well and have a lot of character, and my house is almost one hundred and twenty years old. Southwest Missouri sure looked a lot different a hundred and twenty years ago.
A lot of people tried to take advantage of Woody and thought he was only good for his money, what little he had, but I never asked for anything of him beyond buying me lunch or dinner In exchange for giving up hours of my time to drive him around. Whenever I drove Woody to town, if I knew he wanted to drink, I insisted on using his car so just in case he puked. In addition to driving Woody to town I also did a lot of work around his house for him, free of charge, or I at least tried to do it free of charge. Most of the time I could not get by with doing work for Woody for free because even though I insisted that he didn’t owe me anything he wanted to pay me and said that an honest job deserved an honest wage and said that I always did a good job for him.
Woody also was a firm believer that a person should make themselves useful and should work for what they have so they would not be an undue burden on others and always said that no one owes you anything you didn’t earn.
My father was always saying horrible things about me and trying to get me to think poorly of myself, but Woody always told me that I was smart and talented and it made me feel a lot better about myself. Woody often had more faith in me and respect for me than I had for myself.
Woody was the type of man who always said truthfully what was on his mind, even if it was not what you wanted to hear, and that is why his kind and encouraging words and his praise meant so much to me. No amount of alcohol ever caused Woody to loose his integrity and there is a lot to be said for that. I have always thought that integrity was one of the most important qualities that a person could possess.
If I ever said or did anything that was not quite right Woody was a quick to call me on it as he was to praise me when I had done well well. Woody didn’t praise me if I did not deserve it, and whenever he corrected me he did so in a kind and loving way. I strongly believe that whenever you give anyone praise they did not earn it does them and society at large a disservice. It is also harmful to give unwarranted criticism, and when criticism is warranted it should be constructive, not destructive.
One of the reasons Woody meant so much to me was that he was the first adult male who ever loved me and the first man who didn’t let me down, berate me or try to abuse me in any way shape or form. With the notable exception of Woody, every man I had ever known in my life up to that point had been mean to me and almost everything they ever said to me was a lie. I guess it makes sense that since my father was mean and untrustworthy that those he surrounded himself with would be as well. Birds of a feather truly do flock together.
There were a lot of people who did not like Woody because he was old and frail, needed help, was a bit grumpy and ornery when he was not feeling well, and always said what was on his mind, but I adored him, even when he was cantankerous, obnoxious or needy.
When I knew him Woody was in his nineties and a lot of people that age are forgetful and have the same conversations over and over in a short amount of time, and my grandmother is certainly that way, but woody was sharp and focused up until the day he died. Perhaps that is another reason Woody drank because it was the only way he could forget some of the many tragedies in his long life.
Woody was a Christian, but he never went to Church so long as I knew him, but he did talk about God and the Bible a lot and he often worried that some of the things he had been required to do during the war had cost him his salvation, but I don’t think so. I know we are not saved by our good works, but Woody did a lot of good in his life, but I believe that Woody’s unwavering faith in Jesus saved him, regardless of his shortcomings.
Woody was a bit of a trouble maker when he was a kid and since his parents were devout Pentecostals it often got him in trouble. One time when Woody was a child his parents had a couple of Pentecostal pastors over for dinner and a few weeks earlier Woody had taken the cork out of the barrels of grape juice his parents had so that it would ferment. When the pastors realized the grape juice had fermented into wine one said to the other, “I’ll drink it if you will.” When the pastors went ahead and drank the fermented grape juice Woody’s mother lit him up with the switch after the fact because she feared he had caused the pastors to sin. You see, Pentecostals are tea teetotaler.
Because of his upbringing, when Woody went into the military the other soldiers wrote on the side of his assigned airplane, “The Deacon’s Holy Roller Special.” Of course, they also painted teeth on the front of the airplane. In today’s military if a a soldier took it upon himself to paint an aircraft he would probably be court-martialed, but things were different back then.
On one of Woody’s mission he managed to land his plane even though it was not technically capable of landing, basically coming in on a wing and a prayer. Woody always said he knew God had spared him for some special purpose, but he felt that he was probably wasting the gift God had given him and missing the mission God had given him. I for one think that if I had been the only person who Woody was able to help in his entire life than his life was worth it, but I know Woody helped many people throughout his life.
I saw Woody give his food away to other people in the community on several occasion, he once let a homeless drifter stay with him and all he got for his trouble was to be robbed blind. Woody was understandably angry at the betrayal, but still wound up praying for the man, and in a good way. Woody was not the type to pray for harm to come to someone and instead prayed for their safety and salvation.
Woody might have doubted, or at least refused to follow, some of the tenants of his childhood faith such as the prohibition on alcohol, but he never doubted the Bible or God and he often asked me to pray with him, and I am certain he prayed for me and my family, despite the fact that he never told me that he did.
I was not living in Arizona when Woody passed away, and sadly I was not able to go to his funeral, but I was pleased to hear that he was given a military funeral and that his daughters attended the service.
When I was younger I knew a lot of people who served in the military during WWII, but now all of those who I knew are dead, the last of which died this year. My grandfather served in the war and he died last summer.
Partially because of the example of those I knew who had served in the armed forces, but mostly because of my patriotism, I have always felt that it was my duty to serve my country in the armed forces and when I was younger I joined the US navy, but my career was short lived because as it turns out I am a sleep walker and that was an immediate disqualification from serving in the Navy and I was given a medical discharge. For the longest time I felt a profound sense of shame and failure for not being able to serve my country and I felt like I had failed those who had served before me, but now I accept the fact that it was not my fault and does not reflect poorly on my character nor does it diminish my patriotism.
I will always be grateful to those who have served in the military and will do my best to honor their sacrifice, but I also feel blessed to have older adults in my life and in my circle of friends because there is so much value to be gained from their experiences and I love to help them and to do what I can for them, and most of all, to be their friends with no strings attached.